Comprehensive Exam Guidelines - INDS PHD

All students must complete an oral and a written comprehensive exam. These two exams can be taken in any order.  The oral exam will consist of a formal defense of the Ph.D. research proposal. The written exam can take one of several forms, and may include an oral follow-up which will be considered part of the “written exam.”

I. Oral Exam:

The student must formally defend the Ph.D. research proposal to the full committee.   Timing of the proposal defense will depend on the discipline. As a reminder, please request an Outside Examiner a minimum of two weeks prior to the exam.

II. Written Exam:

A. Overall Goals

Successful completion of written and oral comprehensive exams will reflect breadth and depth of knowledge by the student demonstrating:

  1. competency in three fields or disciplines related to the dissertation;
  2. how this knowledge relates to the student’s research;
  3. his/her ability to participate in discourse within the pertinent academic fields;
  4. that s/he is prepared to be a professional in one or more intersecting fields.

Students are not expected to exhibit the same depth of expertise in each field or discipline as students earning their Ph.D.s in a single discipline. In most disciplines the written exam is followed by an oral component; the Graduate School encourages this.

B. Format

The format of the exam will be determined by the graduate committee and should be appropriate to the fields of study. Below are examples of formats the Graduate School deems acceptable from a diversity of disciplines:

1. Psychology: three portfolios:

a.  Community and program evaluation

b. Research Project

 c. Clinical Portfolio

2. Anthropology: three field papers (extended analyses / treatments of the literature within the specified subject areas; these could include a methodology field)

3. Many disciplines: sets of questions submitted by all or some committee members.  The time periods given for the student to respond to each or all questions should be determined by the committee and student. Time frame examples include (but are not limited to) the following: the student responding to all questions in 1 day (open- or closed-book), the student responding to one question per day, the student responding to all questions within 1 - 2 weeks.

PLEASE NOTE: Completing a chapter of the dissertation is NOT an acceptable format for the written exam.

The Graduate School will provide examples of comprehensive exam formats upon request.

C. Procedure

The student will work with the committee to develop the content and procedures for the written comprehensive exam.

1.  The comprehensive exam process form must be submitted to the Graduate School at least 3 months before the exam. Information submitted will include the areas in which the student will be examined, scheduling for each component (if applicable), the format of the exam, and the testing conditions (e.g., time available per question, open or closed book). The form must be signed by all committee members and the student.

2.  As deemed appropriate, the committee and the student may agree upon a reading list 3-6 months prior to the exam.

3.  Students may receive a pass, conditional pass, or fail on the written exam. In the case of a conditional pass or fail, the committee shall inform the student of the time limitation for resubmission or retake.


III. Exam retake policy: A student may attempt the written and oral exams a maximum of three times.  


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